The restoration of the 105-year-old Minnesota Capitol has been bustling behind the scenes for months. But as soon as this week, visitors to the building will start to see evidence that the four-year project is getting underway.
Construction crews will begin taking up big sections of the lawn in the front of the Capitol building. That space will be temporarily replaced by parking lots to be used during the construction, with plans to replace the grass in 2017, when the project is slated to be finished.
That’s not the only news regarding the $271 million remodeling project. State senators are still on the hunt for an optimal swing space to occupy while construction crews tear up the Capitol.
A new $89 million state Senate office building will not be complete until sometime in the spring of 2015 — with July being the soonest senators might be able to move into the new space — so the Department of Administration is exploring several options for swing space in the downtown St. Paul area. That includes the vacant top floors of the Pioneer Press building, space in the Veterans’ Services Building near the Capitol, and even the now-vacant former home of the Macy’s department store downtown.
State Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, who sits on the Capitol Restoration and Preservation Commission, says they are looking for a space that will be able to accommodate all 67 members of the Senate and possibly include space for hearings.
“If we moved the members of the majority party into a swing space, I think we would want to have every member of the Senate there,” Rest said. “They don’t want to be shuttling back and forth between temp space and the [State Office Building] and where we might be having the hearings. We are looking into a place where all of us can go.”
They also want the space to be easily accessible to the public. “That’s certainly one of the top priorities for [Senate Majority Leader Tom] Bakk and me,” she said. “We know everyone is going to be inconvenienced, but we want to make sure the members of the public can reach us and that they know where our offices are going to be and where we will hold hearings.”
Officials are also considering the possibility that one or both of the legislative chambers may be unavailable during the 2015 session. Given some of the work that members want to see done in the chambers, such as updated audio and voting systems, there’s the possibility that the chambers could be unusable during one session. The Department of Administration has been tasked with looking at possible options if that’s the case.
“We are considering all those options,” Department of Administration spokesman Curt Yoakum said. “There haven’t been plans to shut down the chamber in 2015 yet, but all options are being looked at.”
Rest is also aware of the potential challenge, in particular how difficult it will be to find a temporary space for the 134 members of the state House to debate and vote on bills.
“How would 134 members of the House take votes when they go on and on and take amendments on just about everything? The way in which they operate, they will amend everything to death. We would have to get on top of that,” Rest said. “It’s still two years from now, but we don’t want to wait until a year and a half from now.”